Mark Fairweather Tall

Playing the blame game

12/11/2015 20:07

Have you noticed how popular the word ‘blame’ is? Do a search on any online newspaper and you will discover it is used in hundreds of articles each month. Browse through some of the links and you will discover that when something doesn’t go as planned, people look to apportion blame to someone or something. Over the last few weeks we can read about how: Russian airline ‘Metrojet’ blames an ‘external impact’ for the Egyptian plane crash; Former Prime Minister Tony Blair admits there are "elements of truth" in the suggestion the Iraq war was to blame for the rise of Islamic State; Questions are being asked about who is to blame for the slump in form of Chelsea Football club. And so the articles go on and on seeking to attribute where the fault lies – we might call it the ‘blame game’.


Apportioning blame isn’t simply a role for journalists but rather a popular activity that many of us engage in on a regular basis. It may range from the mundane misplacement of keys to the more serious accident where we are hurt. Whatever it is, when something isn’t right we want to know why it is so and whose fault it is. We find it easy to take part in the blame game.   


This is nothing new. We read of it in the Bible in the opening chapters of Genesis. In the Garden of Eden there is one tree that Adam and Eve are forbidden by God to eat the fruit of – the one in the middle. It isn’t long before they do eat from it and they hide from God because they are now aware of their nakedness. God asks them if they have eaten from the tree in the middle of the garden. Adam admits it but blames Eve for giving him the fruit, Eve blames the snake for deceiving her and (to quote the old joke), ‘the snake doesn’t have a leg to stand on!’ They are involved in the blame game.


In the gospel of John we read of a time when Jesus and the disciples see a man who has been blind from birth. The disciples ask a question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). For many Jews at the time, suffering was best understood as the result of sin so the disciples think someone must be to blame for the man being born blind. The main question left open to debate was whose sin it was – his own or his parents? Was he being punished because of something done in previous generations or did he sin before his birth? They were playing the blame game!


It leads me to ask: What makes the ‘blame game’ so appealing? Perhaps a part of the answer is that it is important to learn from our mistakes. If we can find the reason why something has gone wrong we have a better chance of stopping it from going wrong again in the future. Learning from previous mistakes is healthy but let us not underestimate the negative effects. Blame is often the match that sparks pain into an explosion of anger. Blame can lead to bitterness, resentment and the seeking of revenge. Blame can seriously damage relationships and the individual lives of both the blamed and the blamer.


God does not play the blame game. Yes, Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden but that was for their own protection in order that they would not eat from the tree of life. God could not allow them to live forever in their sinful state. The rest of the bible is the story of God reaching out to the whole of humanity that we might be restored into right relationship with the God who forgives us. In the final chapters of the Bible we read of Eden restored and God’s dwelling place being amongst his people. This can only happen because of forgiveness.


And Jesus redirects his disciples away from who is to blame for the man’s blindness to bring a different understanding; “but this happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life.” (v3). In other words he is encouraging them not to play the blame game but rather see how God is at work in the situation.


As Christians we are called not to conform to the patterns of the world. Every time someone refuses to play the ‘blame game’ and is more concerned about ‘forgiveness’, we see the work of God being displayed in their lives. It may not be easy but it is worthwhile. Here is a challenge for us all: Next time something goes wrong and our natural instinct is to blame, perhaps we can stop and remind ourselves of this… God does not play the blame game.


The “accusing finger” image is courtesy of Ahmed Al-Shukaili at


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